June 15, 2021

Royal Ascot Day 2 Recap: Biases emerge on rain-soaked course

Crystal Ocean, with jockey Frankie Dettori riding, wins the Prince of Wales's Stakes (G1) for trainer Sir Michael Stoute at Royal Ascot on June 19, 2019 (c) Horsephotos.com

by J. Keeler Johnson

The rain continued on Day 2 of Royal Ascot, and so did the upset victories. Based on the odds offered by bookmakers, not a single favorite prevailed in the six races on Wednesday’s card, and only one managed to crack the exacta.

If you caught any of these winners, you likely enjoyed a profitable day. Let’s look back at the highs, the lows, and the main takeaways from Wednesday:

The Highs

On a day of upsets, perseverance paid off for Crystal Ocean, who surprised clear favorite Magical and accomplished filly Sea of Class in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1), the feature race of the day. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, Crystal Ocean’s three previous attempts in Group 1 company had all resulted in runner-up finishes, a frustrating record for a horse with six victories at the Group 2/3 levels.

Crystal Ocean has historically been at his best running 1 1/2 miles rather than the 1 1/4 miles he encountered in the Prince of Wales’s, and his stamina came in handy over the testing, rain-soaked course at Ascot. After tracking the pace, Crystal Ocean took command with a quarter-mile to run and stayed on resolutely under urging from jockey Frankie Dettori, weaving around down the straight while tenaciously holding Magical clear by 1 1/4 lengths.

“Everything went to plan,” Dettori said. “I sat where I wanted to sit and kicked early to use his stamina. He was full of running and I felt it was going to take a good one to get past me.”

“Crystal Ocean is a high-class horse and I am delighted to have won a Group 1 with him now,” Stoute said. “He is just a very admirable racehorse. It’s marvelous to train a Group 1 horse like this…He may be better over a mile and a half, but I felt he was a pretty good horse over 10 furlongs, and he proved that today.”

The Lows

Unfortunately, the course conditions didn’t suit Sea of Class in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. The four-year-old daughter of Sea the Stars was making her much-anticipated seasonal debut, her first run since finishing second behind Enable in the 2018 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). But prior to Wednesday, Sea of Class had run exclusively over “good to firm” or “good” going, and the softer course she encountered on Ascot clearly wasn’t her favorite. After trailing the field early on, she failed to produce a meaningful rally and struggled home fifth.

“We learnt a lot about her today, mainly the fact that she doesn’t like the deep ground that she encountered out there today,” explained her jockey, James Doyle. “She felt in great nick and travelled really well. We were a bit too far back, but the main thing was just to get a run into her and start her off – we’re very happy with her.”

Also disappointing – though not necessarily surprising – was the sixth-place finish by Deirdre in the Prince of Wale’s Stakes. The world-traveling five-year-old veteran was attempting to become the first horse based in Japan to win a race at Royal Ascot, but after settling in midpack, she ran out of steam when the real running began. As a 33-1 shot, she actually outran her odds by beating two runners, but a stronger finish for the Japanese hopeful would have been exciting for fans of international competition.

Speaking of international competition, American racing fans were surely tearing their hair out after Wesley Ward’s filly Kimari came up short by a head in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2). At least one American runner has prevailed at Royal Ascot every year since 2013, but if the streak is to continue, we’ll have to hope Ward can nab a winner during the final three days of the meet.

How’s the Going?

Although the course conditions were upgraded to “good to soft” for the start of the card, continued rainfall – particularly before and during the Prince of Wales’s Stakes – reduced the ground to “soft” for the final two events of the day.

The testing conditions seemed to place an emphasis on speed, as forwardly-placed runners excelled throughout the afternoon while deep closers (some of them heavily-bet) struggled to make an impact. The above-mentioned Sea of Class was among those compromised after racing at the back of the pack in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, while Norway – favored in the Queen’s Vase Stakes (G2) – likewise failed to menace after falling too far off the pace.

On the straight course, near-side runners dominated the Queen Mary Stakes (G2), Royal Hunt Cup, and Windsor Castle Stakes, so that’s another trend to keep in mind. The good news is, there isn’t much chance of rain during the final three days of the meet, which should allow the course to dry out and perhaps play more fairly. But until further notice, it might pay to upgrade the chances of runners with tactical speed and downgrade one-run deep closers who rely on quick bursts of acceleration to run their best. Furthermore, horses who figure to race on the near side of the straight course should be viewed in a favorable light.

Moore, Tudhope Battle for Jockey Title

After experiencing some frustrating defeats in the Group races, trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore teamed up to win the Windsor Castle Stakes with Southern Hills, which was sufficient to keep them on top of the trainer and jockey standings.

However, Moore has company at the top among jockeys, for Daniel Tudhope nabbed his third winner of the meet aboard Move Swiftly in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (G2), tying him with Moore. Frankie Dettori isn’t far behind either after scoring two victories on the day, most notably aboard Crystal Ocean in the Prince of Wale’s Stakes.

Among trainers, William Haggas followed Aidan O’Brien into the multiple wins category thanks to the success of Move Swiftly. Seven other conditioners have accounted for one royal win apiece, though this list does not include John Gosden, whose runners have surprisingly gone 0-for-5 to start the meet.

Jockey Wins

Ryan Moore – 3
Daniel Tudhope – 3
Frankie Dettori – 2
Jim Crowley – 1
James Doyle – 1
Richard Kingscote – 1
Oisin Murphy – 1

Trainer Wins

Aidan O’Brien – 3
William Haggas – 2
Charlie Appleby – 1
Andrew Balding – 1
Charles Hills – 1
Mark Johnston – 1
David O’Meara – 1
Sir Michael Stoute – 1
Ian Williams – 1

Day 3 at Royal Ascot includes the historic Gold Cup (G1), a 2 1/2-mile test of stamina in which top stayer Stradivarius is widely expected to prevail for Frankie Dettori and John Gosden.

Enjoy the racing!